Can­di­dates dif­fer on how to tackle il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion


Twice in the last dozen years, the U.S. Se­nate voted in fa­vor of com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem re­form bills.

Twice, the House never voted on its own com­pre­hen­sive bill or on the Se­nate bills.

A fix to the prob­lem of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion re­mains elu­sive.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump fa­vors build­ing a wall on the Mex­i­can bor­der and has cracked down se­verely on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, but has yet to pro­pose his own com­pre­hen­sive plan. A one-page memo his ad­min­is­tra­tion sent to con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans in Jan­uary pro­poses a wall, a 10- to 12-year path to cit­i­zen­ship for about 1.8 mil­lion il­le­gal im­mi­grants, al­low­ing im­mi­grants to bring with them only spouses and mi­nor chil­dren and re­plac­ing the visa lot­tery sys­tem with one that chooses im­mi­grants whose ar­rival suits the na­tional in­ter­est.

The Congress that takes of­fice in Jan­uary will in­herit the quandary, and that in­cludes who­ever vot­ers elect

as Penn­syl­va­nia’s next U.S. sen­a­tor and 8th Con­gres­sional District rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the Nov. 6 elec­tion.

In the 8th district, Re­pub­li­can John Chrin, Bar­rett Twp., Mon­roe County, hopes to un­seat U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Moosic Demo­crat. In the U.S. Se­nate race, in­cum­bent Sen. Bob Casey, a Scranton Demo­crat, faces chal­lenges from U.S. Rep. Lou Bar­letta, a Ha­zle­ton Re­pub­li­can, Neal Tay­lor Gale, a Green party can­di­date from Abing­ton Twp., Mont­gomery County, and Dale R. Kerns Jr., a Lib­er­tar­ian from Ri­d­ley Twp., Delaware County.

Most es­ti­mates of il­le­gal im­mi­grants in the U.S. have ranged be­tween 11 mil­lion and 13 mil­lion, but a re­cent Yale Univer­sity study found the num­ber could be dou­ble and may be as high as 29 mil­lion.

The most re­cent se­ri­ous ef­fort to fix the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem hap­pened in the Se­nate in 2013. The Se­nate bill, ti­tled the Bor­der Se­cu­rity, Eco­nomic Op­por­tu­nity and Im­mi­gra­tion Mod­ern­iza­tion Act, would have set aside $46.3 bil­lion. It would have dou­bled the num­ber of bor­der agents to more than 38,000; in­stalled at least 700 miles of fenc­ing along the Mex­i­can bor­der; in­creased mo­bile sur­veil­lance; hired more judges and staff to deal with bor­der crossers; boosted en­force­ment against peo­ple who over­stay tem­po­rary visas; im­ple­mented an elec­tronic im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem known as e-ver­ify for em­ploy­ers; and im­ple­mented an elec­tronic visa exit sys­tem (fin­ger­print­ing) at all ports and air­ports.

Ex­ist­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants would re­main in limbo un­til all the agents, fenc­ing and the elec­tronic ver­i­fi­ca­tion and exit sys­tems are in place, and the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity cer­ti­fies the bor­der as se­cure.

Un­der the bill, “dream­ers,” who ar­rived il­le­gally as chil­dren with their par­ents, could ap­ply for cit­i­zen­ship as soon as they earn green cards.

Il­le­gal im­mi­grants would have to reg­is­ter to be­come pro­vi­sional im­mi­grants to be­gin a path of at least 13 years to cit­i­zen­ship that in­cludes gen­er­ally un­in­ter­rupted em­ploy­ment, no felony con­vic­tions, paid up taxes and pay­ment of a $1,000 penalty. They could not re­ceive Med­i­caid, food stamps and other fed­eral ben­e­fits.

The Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice es­ti­mated the bill would have saved $1 tril­lion over 20 years.

The Se­nate passed it June 27, 2013, by a vote of 68-32 with Democrats, in­clud­ing Casey, and 14 Repub­li­cans sup­port­ing it. Like a 2006 Se­nate bill, the House never acted on it.

U.S. Se­nate

Casey called the 2013 Se­nate bill “the best set of bor­der se­cu­rity pro­pos­als that any­one’s ever seen” and much bet­ter than Trump’s pro­posal.

“We should get back to some­thing very close to what we did in 2013,” Casey said.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the pre­vail­ing point of view of the Re­pub­li­can Party is both sim­ple, in­hu­mane and in­sult­ing: de­port 11 mil­lion peo­ple.,” he said. “That’s all they talk about. They talk about de­port­ing 11 mil­lion and build­ing a wall. It’s not se­ri­ous. It would not be ef­fec­tive.”

Bar­letta, who op­posed the Se­nate bill mainly be­cause of its path­way to cit­i­zen­ship, prefers se­cur­ing the bor­der first and talk­ing cit­i­zen­ship later.

Bar­letta fa­vors build­ing a wall on the Mex­i­can and Cana­dian bor­ders where fea­si­ble with elec­tronic and phys­i­cal sur­veil­lance cov­er­ing the rest; im­ple­ment­ing manda­tory e-ver­ify and the visa exit sys­tem; a new guest-worker pro­gram for farm la­bor­ers; lim­it­ing im­mi­gra­tion to spouses and im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­bers; and of­fer­ing visas to im­mi­grants with skills to fill jobs that don’t have enough Amer­i­cans to fill them. Dream­ers could stay if they meet cer­tain re­quire­ments, he said.

Manda­tory e-ver­ify would re­quire em­ploy­ers to check im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus and dis­cour­age them from hir­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants, who would re­turn to their home coun­tries, un­able to find jobs here, Bar­letta said.

Kerns said the na­tion should ease im­mi­gra­tion rules. He called build­ing a bor­der wall “just rhetoric” that il­le­gal im­mi­grants will de­feat any­way. He fa­vors wel­com­ing ex­ist­ing, law-abid­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants and thinks 13 years is too long for some­one to be­come a ci­ti­zen.

“We need to al­low good peo­ple to em­i­grate here and we need to al­low peo­ple to con­trib­ute to our com­mu­ni­ties and to our so­ci­eties, and not have such harsh bar­ri­ers in place,” he said.

Gale said build­ing a wall is “a bad idea” and “a po­lit­i­cal ploy” that will waste money be­cause peo­ple who want to get into the coun­try will find a way.

“I don’t think we want to be walling our­selves off from the rest of the world,” he said.

He fa­vors im­mi­gra­tion reg­u­la­tion, but wants a more wel­com­ing im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy be­cause the na­tion was built by im­mi­grants.

He said he thinks the elec­tronic ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tems sound rea­son­able, and ex­ist­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants should have a path to cit­i­zen­ship.

“They’re here; they’re part of us al­ready,” he said. “They’re Amer­i­cans and they should be­come Amer­i­can ci­ti­zens.”

The an­nual salary for a sen­a­tor is $174,000; the term is six years.

8th Con­gres­sional District

Like Bar­letta, Chrin fa­vors se­cur­ing the bor­ders first and op­poses any fed­eral sup­port for sanc­tu­ary cities. A sanc­tu­ary city re­fuses to co­op­er­ate with fed­eral au­thor­i­ties seek­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

Chrin said he had not read the Se­nate bill, but said se­cur­ing the south­ern bor­der, air­ports and ports should be a top pri­or­ity.

Chrin, whose wife, Maria, is a na­tive of Hon­duras, said a bor­der wall ul­ti­mately could save money by keep­ing out im­mi­grants who com­mit crimes and re­ceive fed­eral ben­e­fits, which costs gov­ern­ments money.

“We have a pay­back on that wall,” he said. “If some­one’s in this coun­try il­le­gally, and they’ve com­mit­ted a crime, it’s wrong that you’re go­ing to con­tinue to pro­tect them.”

He wants a bill that’s fair to im­mi­grants who en­ter legally. He did not rule out sup­port­ing some­thing along the lines of the 13-year cit­i­zen­ship process in the Se­nate bill.

“That would, from a fair­ness per­spec­tive, seem fair, be­cause it doesn’t jump them to the front of the line,” he said. “If it’s not jump­ing peo­ple to the front of the line, that it truly is some­thing that they have to go through and go through the process that any­body else would, maybe even a lit­tle bit longer, but get them pay­ing taxes, get them into the sys­tem.”

Cartwright said he wants com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form too and re­mains open to a bill sim­i­lar to the 2013 Se­nate bill.

“But, we need to se­cure the bor­ders. We need to make tax­pay­ers out of those liv­ing in the shad­ows in this coun­try,” he said. “We know they’re not here sight-see­ing. They’re here for the work, and they’re do­ing jobs no­body else wants to do like mi­grant farm work.”

He wants il­le­gal im­mi­grants to pay penal­ties as part of any le­gal­iza­tion process and wants a sys­tem that deals with peo­ple who over­stay their visas.

Cartwright said he has no prob­lem with build­ing “walls or stronger fences or what­ever bar­ri­ers you want to talk about in cer­tain places where they make sense.”

“But, I don’t think mass de­por­ta­tion is what we’re af­ter here,” he said. “First of all, for the hu­man­i­tar­ian rea­sons. But also ... if we were to de­port 11 (mil­lion) or 12 mil­lion souls from our shores, that would make such a hit on our na­tional econ­omy.”

The na­tion’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct could drop by 2.6 per­cent if all il­le­gal im­mi­grants are de­ported, City Univer­sity of New York re­searchers found in 2017.

“I think we can get to a grown-up so­lu­tion, but we have to get mem­bers of Congress who aren’t talk­ing past each other,” he said.

The an­nual salary for a con­gress­man is $174,000; the term is two years.

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